Volunteers needed to help hoover up Letchworth Garden City history

Vicky Axell at The Garden City Collection Study Centre

Vicky Axell at The Garden City Collection Study Centre - Credit: Archant

Want to hoover up some history? Then join the volunteers who are helping to archive up to 80,000 documents and objects as part of Letchworth Garden City Heritage Foundation’s modernisation.

Aimee Flack hoovering up dust

Aimee Flack hoovering up dust - Credit: Archant

Drawers, boxes and shelves filled with the town’s history at its study centre in Wilbury Hills Road need careful handling, but the mammoth task needs as many pairs of willing hands as it can recruit.

For the past year 23 volunteers have been helping to conserve and care for the collection, work which includes ‘hoovering’ documents to free them of dust, as well as photographing and scanning them to help put the collection online.

Curator Vicky Axell says the daunting digital project is where they need the most help.

As the owner of the bulk of the designs and architectural drawings for the world’s first garden city, the foundation wants to make sure they are protected for the future, but also as widely available as possible.

Letchworth Study Centre

Letchworth Study Centre - Credit: Archant

Over the past year volunteers have devoted about 2,000 hours to the cause, and so far catalogued between 4,000 and 5,000 documents.

But more pairs of hands would be greatly appreciated.

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Vicky said: “We may not have any Rembrandts or Van Goghs, or anything that is worth millions of pounds – but all these items tell a really good story of how the garden city came to be.”

The foundation has three huge rooms full of architectural drawings, newspaper clippings and photographs that still need sorting.

Part of the collection

Part of the collection - Credit: Archant

They also have objects such as a door from one of the original houses built in 1905 which still has a working doorbell, Garden City leading light Ebenezer Howard’s writing desk and daybed in the collection – as well as other treasures which have not yet been identified. “We don’t even know what is in there,” said Vicky.

“The other day we found the layout plans for the town, the very first ones and we hadn’t seen them before.

“It is nice to work with volunteers because they get so excited about seeing new things, and sometimes, because I work with it every day, you can forget how interesting the things we have are.”

Collections officer Aimee Flack, who started at the centre as a volunteer, said: “It is helping to preserve history.

“The other day we had an expert come and look at some textiles we have and we unrolled this gorgeous banner that I had never seen before, and I just thought that’s why I get up in the morning.

“It was used parades in Letchworth, it is a part of our history.”

Vicky says the centre is also looking for more donations showing what life in Letchworth was like in the recent past, and thinks people don’t realise the range of items the team would love to receive.

Photographs, postcards and diaries are all highly prized by the foundation as they should how people lived in years gone by.

“Even if it is just a picture of you or your mum outside Woolworths with a dodgy perm in the 1980s, it may not seem interesting now – but in 10, 20 or 30 years time it will a record of what went on in Letchworth and that is what we are trying to show,” she said.

For more information about the centre visit www.gardencitycollection.com or call 01462 476075.

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